Attractions / Reviews and Visitors' Perspectives / Western Cape

Vanrhynsdorp discovered

Updated Sunday, 29 January 2017

Vanrhynsdorp, in the heart of the Nama Karoo, might appear small, but for a Sunday the place is buzzing. Even the tourist information is open and Shaun is very quick to thrust a town map in my hand, from which I quickly ascertain that there are seven buildings of historical note that include the Kokerboom succulent nursery on Voortrekker Road, that is closed.

Bad luck really, as we want to visit it. No problem. Because we have also worked out that travelling along the dirt R364 from Nieuwoudtville, to which we are making our way, back to Clanwilliam is far from a sane idea in a sedan, and that we will more than likely make our way back again on Monday via Vanrhynsdorp. So, the chance to ogle succulents is still high on the list of priorities. Particularly as we’ve very much missed the very short flower season that places Vanrhynsdorp on the map every year and is the main reason people visit here.

This part of the world is known as the Knersvlakte and it is where a third of the world’s succulents live, some of them, only here. The area at first appears to be little more than a  rather dry, slightly hilly plain, bounded by Vanrhynsdorp in the south and Bitterfontein in the north, whilst the Bokkeveld Mountains are a haze in the east.

Don’t let looks deceive. Dry it is. But after the rains, flowers spring. Sometimes they’re only in evidence for five days at a time and open for little more than five hours a day, but the region is famous for these blooms and it is what draws countless people here around August.

The Old Gaol, right next door to the tourist information office, is pretty. One of its doors is standing ajar and I take a moment to see that the courtyard is also used for Anna se lapverf and other business. Further probing reveals that this inner sanctum probably has a coffee shop/restaurant that is also not open and that the building dates back to 1895.

Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
Photographs – Left: Shan at the Tourist Information Centre / Centre: Talk of the Town / Right: Doorway to the old goal

Vanrhynsdorp has a lovely feel about it. It’s small but there are pretty houses, a few cute shops, and a B&B called Talk of the Town where you are invited to ‘lekker lê’ that seems also to function as the town’s bakery, or at least the smell out of the back of the lavender building in Olive street, just down from the Latsky Radio Museum where you can apparently view a fascinating collection of vintage radios, seems to suggest so. I watch as a bakery van reverses in and begins loading bread. He delivers throughout town, he assures me.

The front of the beautiful Victorian house that is Talk of the Town, however, reveals that it no longer functions as a coffee shop. We aren’t the only ones disappointed by this. A mother and her daughter (my son goes into freeze mode as he stares at her – girls seem to have this effect. He is only four) also arrive to discover that tea and coffee are no longer available. But no amount of mumbling on the back stoep appears to amend the matter.

Skoorsteenjtie Tuisbedryf, just up the road however, sells mosbrood, even if the woman running the shop barely glances up from her obviously enthralling telephone conversation as we pass her a couple of notes for our wares. So much for little town hospitality.

Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
Photographs – Left: Latsky Radio Museum / Right: A local business

We tumble out of the shop only to meet Tannie Hettie, who immediately makes me reassess my take on small town goodwill, just outside the Trutro 1751 Politstatie. This beautiful old building dates back to 1751 and is actully called the Troe-Troe Zending Hetgesticht (Vanrhynsdorp was originially known as Trutro). It is the oldest remaining building in the districts of Vanrhynsdorp, Clanwilliam, Calvinia, Namaqualand and Vredendal and has served as an inn, a public school, a church, a court house and as the headquarters for Jan Smuts.

Tannie Hettie, all 84 years of her, stands in the middle of the road, content to share her memories of the days when she and her family were ‘trek farmers’ of Namaqualand. I am amazed. I had no idea that white Afrikaans farmers lived around here as nomads, following their livestock in a trek wagon, living in tents and cooking in a ‘skerm’ they built in each of the places they stayed out of local gorse and bush. She was based in and around Pofadder in those days and went to school in Nieuwoudtville, where we’re headed.

This morning she is on her way to the local supermarket to pick up some bread. She describes to us how she used to make mosbrood – she no longer bakes as her hands cannot knead any longer – and why it is called such. It is a traditional Cape Malay food too. They call it ‘grape bread’, whilst the Afrikaans call it ‘mosbolletjies’. It is the same principle – roll little balls of dough, reminiscent of grapes, and leave them to rise into a sweet bread that includes aniseed. Serve with moer koffie.

Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
Photographs – Left: Die Skoorsteentjie / Right: The Leather Shop

The Mission of the Little Flower sits just outside of town. It is as forlorn as the broken windmill that stands outside, and, whilst we take a couple of photos, there isn’t much reason to stay. The mission station is one of several – the others are in places like Wupperthal, Ebenhaezer, Leliefontein and Steinkopf.

On our way out of town we pass a beautiful old Victorian homestead that is also a leather shop. A leather crafter lives in the village and not only offers hand crafted leather tools but also gives individual and group training at his workshop.

A couple more quaint Victorian style shops reveal themselves to us on Voortrekker Road on our way out of town, and then Vanrhynsdorp is behind us, Nieuwoudtville ahead.

Useful Vanrhynsdorp Links

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